Magazine article Marketing

Media Analysis: Five Digital Down in the Dumps

Magazine article Marketing

Media Analysis: Five Digital Down in the Dumps

Article excerpt

The last terrestrial broadcaster to launch in the digital arena is fighting an uphill battle for viewers.

Almost 10 years after its launch, Five has made tentative steps into the digital TV market with spin-off channels Five Life and Five US. In the intervening years the market has changed beyond recognition, and consumer interest in new channels has dried up almost as quickly as the careers of the Spice Girls, mascots of Channel 5's original launch campaign in early 1997.

There is no doubt that as the last terrestrial entrant to the market, Five is late to the digital party. As the smallest terrestrial broadcaster, there is a question as to whether it can afford to compete with the deep pockets of bigger rivals including Sky and establish credible brands without cannibalising its existing, declining terrestrial audience.

Kathleen Rigg, joint head of TV at media agency Initiative, says it has been a difficult year of trading for Five. 'Its audiences have plateaued and are showing signs of decline,' she says. 'As with many terrestrial broadcasters, it's a case of managing this, which is why these digital channels are so vital to its future success.'

Establishing a presence in more upmarket digital homes is key to driving revenues. Yet, even though it is now nine years since Dawn Airey, then programme controller at the broadcaster, famously said Channel 5 was about 'the three Fs: films, f***ing and football', the broadcaster has still to ditch its downmarket image.

Chris Hayward, head of investment at ZenithOptimedia, says Five faces a difficult challenge. 'The problem is that all the broadcasters are seeking to get a more upmarket audience,' he says. 'Five has got in shows such as Home and Away, but there is huge competition for the big shows. It's an expensive way of getting the audience.'

Five Life, which is aimed squarely at female viewers, got off to a poor start. Its debut last October attracted an audience of just 44,500 - a 0.1% share of the available audience and the worst ever figures for a terrestrial spin-off channel launch.

Five US, meanwhile, has focused its marketing activity on flagship programmes such as CSI rather than developing the channel itself as a destination.

Early agency estimates show its digital channels currently combine for 12% of Five's overall audience, compared with 17% at ITV and 23% at Channel 4.

While its terrestrial presence can give its digital channels a clear advantage over their digital-only rivals, Five has nothing like the cross-promotional strength of ITV or Channel 4 because of its smaller audience base.

Stewart Easterbrook, group managing director at Starcom, says the channel has to shout louder to achieve cut-through, but it won't be easy. 'Even Sky, with its deep pockets and first runs of shows such as Lost and ER, has struggled to make Sky One a powerful entertainment channel in its own right,' he says.

Neil Johnston, head of TV at OMD, adds that while Five's channels are noticeable in Freeview homes, consumers with Sky or cable at home probably don't even know they are there. 'To build a brand in the crowded broadcast market you need consistency and cash - not a two-week marketing campaign concentrated on London,' he says. On the Sky platform, Milkshake!, Five Life's extended children's strand, does not even show up on the dedicated EPG. …

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